Five Real-World Tips for Early Career Engineers


As a master’s student pursuing an engineering degree with an internship at the ASME New York office this summer, I have successfully survived my undergraduate life and am now taking steps into the real world.

The problem was, even with an engineering diploma, I often found it hard to finish my tasks efficiently and organize my schedule. Fortunately, the internship at ASME has taught me a lot regarding my career and professional manner.

Here is a list of takeaways I found useful in preparing for real-world challenges as an early career engineer.

1. Set Up Your Goals—both Short-Term and Long-Term

If you think you can build your career without aiming at a goal, you might end up in a position you do not like at all. Still, I am not asking you to make a full list of career goals, since you might be exploring other opportunities for the rest of your professional life.

Start with something short-term. It doesn’t have to be purely technical or official. “Make connections with ten people in my office,” or, “Read one technical article in my area of interest daily,” will do.

Then, after you know what you are doing, set up long-term goals that could benefit your career path. However, don't assume that the goal is going to be a constant one. It can change over time as your career evolves. Keep in mind that it is better to have at least one long-term goal and one short-term goal to help you sharpen your skillset in both communications and technical development.

2. Mark Your Calendar with Due Dates and Incoming Events

As an engineer, you might already have a taste of how busy your schedule can be. In the real world, it can be worse.

It will seem more important to mark things on your calendar when you find yourself in a spot where there are three incoming meetings in different conference rooms, with different people from different departments; plus, you have assignments due on different days of the week. Human memory is not reliable.

If you don’t want to be the person that comes in late to a meeting, and has to awkwardly say “sorry” to all your colleagues while trying to find a spot to sit, better start marking your calendar now.

3. Take Notes on Everything

As I've mentioned, human memory is not as reliable. Thus, it is not a bad move to have a notebook and a pen with you at all times to take notes.

About 80 percent of the notes I took from either classes or meetings, I would never need to go back to. But writing things down helps to reinforce your memory and give you a clear understanding. Also, writing helps you to structure things. Moreover, it is always good to have a backup just in case you forget something, right?

4. Prioritize Tasks Before Acting

When your schedule is getting tight, taking notes is not enough to get your work finished timely and impressively. Insignificant or non-urgent matters can drive you crazy when you try to get the really urgent and important ones done.

Before you start getting your hands dirty, take a moment to look at the list of tasks you have, sort them out using the Four-Square Method—or whatever method you find applicable to your specific situation—and then execute them in that order.

5. Don’t Stall Until the Last Moment

We all have the habit of procrastination. As long as you get things done on time with decent quality, it is fine. However, do you think you can ensure the quality of your work when you only get two hours before the deadline? What if there are multiple deadlines huddled together?

There is a greater chance that you might end up finishing nothing at all. Remember, you are no longer at school. It is not about passing the course. If you do not get your job done, the company will suffer losses, and your supervisor will not like it.

Start working when you are assigned a task, and make sure you arrange the work throughout the duration before the deadline.

Xuezhi Wang, a graduate student at Cornell University, recently took part in the ASME Executive Internship Program. 

You May Also Like: Transitioning from a College Athlete to an Early Career Engineer